Should we now worry about those Asian giant hornets becoming residents of our Golden State?
Kimsey, a global authority on wasps, bees and other insects, is a two-term past president of the International Society of Hymenopterists. She recently co-authored “The Diversity of Hornets in the Genus Vespa (Hymenoptera: Vespidae; Vespinae); Their Importance and Interceptions in the United States” in the journal Insect Systematics and Diversity with two other entomologists: lead author Allan Smith-Pardo, U.S. Department of Agriculture Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS); and James Carpenter of the American Museum of Natural History's Division of Invertebrate Zoology.
The latest news: the Washington State Department of Agriculture (WSDA) announced Oct. 24 that a nest was discovered and destroyed in a tree cavity near Blaine, Wash. This marked Washington's first known nest of Vespa mandarinia. North America's first detected colony of the giant hornets was destroyed in September 2019 on Vancouver Island, British Columbia. A single V. mandarinia was found dead in Blaine, Wash., in December 2019.
But to worry. The hornet won't like California's hot, dry summers and lack of rainfall.
As Kimsey told reporter Kellie Hwang of the San Francisco Chronicle: "It is exceedingly unlikely that these hornets can establish in California. If you look at where they're found in their native range in southern Asia, this region has summer rain. I think California is too dry, except perhaps along the far northern coast.”
Washington State University (WSU) entomologists and their colleagues agree. They recently "examined more than 200 records from the hornet's native range in Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan, then used a set of ecological models incorporating climate data to predict likely global habitat across six continents," according to a WSU news release.
They found that "Asian giant hornets are most likely to thrive in places with warm summers, mild winters, and high rainfall. Extreme heat is lethal, so their most suitable habitats are in regions with a maximum temperature of 102 degrees Fahrenheit. Based on those factors, suitable habitat for the giant hornet exists along much of the U.S. west and east coasts, adjacent parts of Canada, much of Europe, northwestern and southeastern South America, central Africa, eastern Australia, and most parts of New Zealand."
"Much of the interior of the U.S. is inhospitable to the hornet due to extremes of heat, cold, and low rainfall," the news release related. "This includes the eastern parts of Washington state and British Columbia, as well as California's Central Valley, all of which have major fruit and nut crops that rely on honey bee pollination."
Scientists dislike the sensationalized name "murder hornets" (so named because insects can quickly destroy a honey bee colony). The insects defend their colony when it is threatened, but generally will not attack people or pets, according to WSDA. The fear is there, though. "Their stinger is longer than that of a honeybee and their venom is more toxic," WSDA says. "They can also sting repeatedly."
But "murder hornets?"
Maybe we should just call them "giant hornets," you think?
Chemical ecologist Anjel Helms of Texas A&M University will share information on that topic from 4:10 to 5 p.m., Wednesday, Oct. 28, in a virtual seminar hosted by the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology. Access this site for the Zoom link.
Host and the fall seminar coordinator is Cooperative Extension specialist and agricultural entomologist Ian Grettenberger, assistant professor, UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology.
"The research in our lab focuses on understanding how chemical compounds mediate interactions among microbes, plants, herbivores, and herbivore natural enemies," Helms says. "We combine analytical chemistry and behavioral ecology in laboratory and field-based research to investigate how organisms use chemistry to navigate, communicate, and defend themselves. This seminar will discuss some of our ongoing projects examining how plants and insect herbivores use chemical information from their environment to assess their risk of attack and how herbivore natural enemies use such information to find potential prey."
The insects Helms researches include the striped cucumber beetle (Acalymma vittatum) and squash bug (Anasa tristis).
Helms, an assistant professor, holds two degrees from Pepperdine University, Malibu, Calif., both awarded in 2009: a bachelor of science degree in biology and a bachelor of arts degree in biochemistry. She received her doctorate in ecology in 2015 from The Pennsylvania State University, State College, Penn. While in the John Tooker lab, Helms studied the chemical ecology of plant-insect interactions, especially how plants defend themselves against insect herbivores. She investigated how plants use olfactory cues to predict impeding herbivore attacks and the molecular mechanisms involved.
In addition to the general field of chemical ecology, Helms' research interests include plant-insect interactions, tritrophic interactions, belowground chemical ecology, chemical communication, and plant defense.
Her most recent publications:
Helms, A.M., Ray, S., Matulis, N.L.*, Kuzemchak, M.C.*, Grisales, W.*, Tooker, J.F., Ali, J.G. Chemical cues linked to risk: Cues from belowground natural enemies enhance plant defences and influence herbivore behaviour and performance. Functional Ecology. 33, 798-808 (2019). DOI: 10.1111/1365-2435.13297
Acevedo, F.E., Smith, P., Peiffer, M., Helms, A.M., Tooker, J.T., Felton, G.W. Phytohormones in fall armyworm saliva modulate defense responses in plants. Journal of Chemical Ecology. (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10886-019-01079-z
Yip, E.C., Sowers, R.P.*, Helms, A.M., Mescher, M.C., De Moraes, C.M., Tooker, J.F. Tradeoffs between defenses against herbivores in goldenrod (Solidago altissima). Arthropod-Plant Interactions. 13, 279-287 (2019). DOI: 10.1007/s11829-019-09674-3
For any technical issues regarding the seminar, contact Grettenberger at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The article, “Genome-Enabled Insights into the Biology of Thrips as Crop Pests,” is published in the journal BMC Biology. It is the work of 57 scientists on five continents.
“This project represents over eight years of work by at least 17 laboratories across the globe,” said Professor Ullman, a former chair of the entomology department and a fellow of the Entomological Society of America and the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Her laboratory worked closely with project leader and first author Dorith Rotenberg of North Carolina State University. Project scientist Sulley Ben-Mahmoud of the Ullman lab is the paper's third author.
The western flower thrips, Frankliniella occidentalis, causes billions of dollars a year in damage worldwide. Native to Western North America and about the size of a pinhead, the insect feeds on a wide array of food, fiber, and ornamental crops and transmits plant viruses that cause significant economic damage.
“The western flower thrips and the viruses it transmits, including tomato spotted wilt virus, is important to California agriculture, causing serious problems for tomato growers, pepper growers and growers of leafy greens,” Ullman said. The tomato spotted wilt virus infects more than 1000 plant species, ranging from tomatoes, tobacco and peanuts to pansies and chrysanthemums.
“This system has been a central element of my research program for over 30 years," Ullman said, "and I am extremely excited to see this important resource made available as a tool to help us understand and control these important pests.”
In their abstract, the authors wrote that the publication should lead to “understanding the underlying genetic mechanisms of the processes governing thrips pest and vector biology, feeding behaviors, ecology, and insecticide resistance.”
This is the first genome sequence and analysis for a member of the Thysanoptera, an order that contains more than 7,000 species of small insects with fringed wings.
(See more information on the project on the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology website)
Step into your garden, walk over to a community park, or hike in the wilderness and see what's out there.
And take along the newly published, newly revised "The Field Guide to California Insects."
It includes more than 600 insect species. Not sure what species of butterfly that is? Want to know if that's a Valley carpenter bee? What's that species of praying mantis you just found? Take a look at the text and photos. Chances are you'll find them in this handy book.
It's a California Natural History Guide and published by the University of California Press. If you're into entomology, you'll probably recognize the names of the four authors:
- Kip Will, entomologist, insect systematist, and former director of the Essig Museum of Entomology at UC Berkeley
- Joyce Gross, noted insect photographer (she works as a computer programmer with the Berkeley Natural History Museums at UC Berkeley)
- Dan Rubinoff, who grew up chasing insects in California and is now a professor of entomology and director of the University of Hawaii Insect Museum
- Jerry Powell, emeritus professor, UC Berkeley, and former director of the Essig Museum of Entomology
We remember reading the first edition, California Insects, published in September 1980 and authored by Professor Powell and (the late) Charles Hogue.
So this revision is 40 years in the making.
It's billed as the only California-specific, statewide book devoted to all groups of insects:
"Engaging accounts focus on distinguishing features, remarkable aspects of biology, and geographical distribution in the state. An accessible and compact introduction to identifying, understanding, and appreciating these often unfamiliar and fascinating creatures, this guide covers insects that readers are likely to encounter in homes and natural areas, cities and suburbs, rural lands and wilderness. It also addresses exotic and invasive species and their impact on native plants and animals. Field Guide to California Insects remains the definitive portable reference and a captivating read for beginners as well as avid naturalists."
The authors point out that worldwide, there are only a million described insects, and that's "more than five times the number of all animals combined." They also note that "estimates of the number remaining to be described and named vary between three million to 30 million or more."
Thirty million! Can you imagine?
The authors define what makes an insect, expanding on growth and reproduction, breathing and circulation, feeding and stinging. They write about the distribution and diversity of the California insect fauna; how insects are classified, and even how to make an insect collection, something most high schoolers will be asked to do.
The book offers you information on dragonflies and damselflies, mantises, stick insects, beetles, fleas, flies, mosquitoes, earwigs, moths and butterflies, and booklice--and more.
It's a fantastic book--well-researched, well-written, well-illustrated, and an opportunity for you to become not a Big Game Hunter, but a Little Game Hunter.
By the end of the book, you may even decide to study entomology. (And there's plenty of opportunities in California, including at the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology)
You may also want to become an insect photographer: plant a pollinator garden and they will come. Below are some of the backyard or household images you can capture.
Those passion flowers (Passiflora) are insect magnets.
One minute you'll see a praying mantis on a blossom. The next minute, a Gulf Fritillary, Agraulis vanillae. And the next morning, the blossom is an arthropod magnet--the beginnings of a spider web.
Passiflora is the host plant of the Gulf Fritillary, a spectacular orange butterfly with silver-spangled underwings. The Gulf Frit lays its eggs only on Passiflora.
The Gulf Frits know where the Passiflora is. Their predators know where the butterflies are.
The female mantis, Mantis religiosa (below), didn't snag the butterfly. But it did grab and munch on a few Gulf Frit caterpillars.
Ever critter eats in the garden.